It’s the season
I always enjoy conference season. We find out a lot about the internal anxieties of each of the parties and after the long summer break the news cycle returns to something like normal. That is even more the case this year after an outbreak of national unity and optimism following the performances of Team GB in the Olympics and Paralympics including of course a swathe of Welsh successes.
We also see the contrast between British and Welsh party conferences compared to USA style conventions. Some people say that our party conferences are more like conventions. I don’t think that’s very near the truth at all. The leadership is always under pressure from different sections of its own party. That takes place on and off conference floor. The anointment of candidates in the USA won’t look much like conference season here. The added element is provided by the contrasting fortunes and moods of the parties.
Labour conference should be a more positive place than it has been for a few years – and not just because it follows Lib Dem conference week. Ed Miliband has been much more effective in Parliament this year. The test will be whether he communicates his improvement to the public in language people will understand and believe in. the set piece speech at conference is still a major test and a major opportunity.
Our Welsh report will serve as a reminder that Welsh Labour is in Government with an alternative to the Tories but with major challenges too. Members in England and Scotland especially pay more attention to Wales during conference week and how we are managing the major policy challenges facing us in times of financial austerity. The diverging policy approaches across the UK don’t hide the fact that our political fortunes are still largely tied in to the UK picture. At a UK level it’s still a straight fight between a Government led by Labour values or Tory values.
The UK re-shuffle changed faces but not policy priorities. We still face an obvious divide between Labour and the Tories on the response to our flat economy and conference season won’t change that. The re-shuffle did seem to tie Welsh Lib Dems even tighter to Tory fortunes with a junior unpaid Welsh Office minister. I can’t imagine what the reaction would be like if the leader of Welsh Labour wasn’t given a platform speech at UK conference like the Welsh Lib Dem leader this year. These will be obvious points of interest and much discussion at fringe meetings where most of the meaningful policy discussion will take place.
Policy debate is probably the most useful and interesting part of conference. It’s important that we still take an active interest in this and don’t simply opt out of discussions across the UK. It’s a strength for us to have that larger debating platform but only if we’re prepared to use it.
After the autumn conference season is over we have a busy Assembly term with major policy, and legislative issues to face as well of course as a budget process. The cold reality facing families on middle and modest incomes at present won’t get changed by a speech at conference. There won’t be any decisive blows ahead of the next General and Assembly elections but this round of conferences should help to spell out a vision of what each party in Government means.
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